Palace wants probe of $30M extort try on Czech firm in MRT deal expedited
MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang wants to expedite the criminal investigation of allegations that Metro Rail Transit (MRT) general manager Al Vitangcol attempted to extort $30 million from a Czech company seeking to supply new train coaches.
But Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma maintained on Sunday that President Benigno Aquino III’s sister, Ballsy Aquino-Cruz, had already been cleared of any involvement in the alleged extortion.
“Since the early part of the exposé, there was already a declaration from the ambassador of [the Czech Republic] that none of the President’s siblings was involved in that case,” he said in Filipino over Radyo ng Bayan.
The allegation made by Czech Ambassador Josef Rychtar centers on the group of Vitangcol, who allegedly demanded $30 million from Inekon Group so that the Czech train builder could corner the contract to supply 48 new coaches.
Coloma replied in the affirmative when asked if the Palace wanted the NBI to hasten its investigation into the alleged extortion.
Last Friday, Justice Secretary Leila De Lima said the NBI probe has been completed but the findings were still being reviewed.
Coloma said the Palace was waiting for the “process at the NBI to be finished.”
Ultimately, the objective is to “improve service to our people through the MRT and LRT [Light Rail Transit],” according to Coloma.
MRT managers, in particular, have been heavily criticized over inadequate coaches that could not accommodate the volume of passengers. Commuters often have to endure very long queues that extend way outside MRT stations on Edsa.
The House committee on good government and public accountability has been asked to investigate the alleged extortion for the MRT project, and summon in particular, Wilson de Vera, a member of the President’s Liberal Party.
De Vera was Vitangcol’s alleged “envoy” when the extortion attempt was purportedly made during a meeting with Inekon executives, including Rychtar, in 2012.
The Czech company refused to pay the bribe even if the amount had been supposedly reduced to $2.5 million, Inekon CEO and chairman Josef Husek had said.
Coloma said the executive branch would not meddle with the House investigation.
“It’s important to recognize it as a separate process,” he said.
“We will just be watchful and we hope that [the inquiry] would lead to the truth for the benefit of our country and out people.”
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